This article was published in Arab News on October 1, 2018.
Will Cologne mosque help or hinder Germany’s Muslims?
When I was serving as the consul of Turkey in Antwerp, Belgium, in the mid-1960s, I noticed that the first attempts of the Turkish community’s workers to get organized was not aimed at meeting their basic needs or securing their trade union rights, but at constructing a mosque.
Some 35 years later, in 2002, when I visited Cologne, Germany, in my capacity as the deputy chairman of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), accompanying then-chairman of the party Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turks living there insistently brought up the subject of constructing a big mosque. Erdogan did not comment on this request at that time, but must have recorded it for the future.
It appears that he did not forget this request and, long after he became prime minister, he decided to fulfill it. On Saturday, President Erdogan officially inaugurated the biggest mosque in Cologne. He must be drawing justified pride for having fulfilled, 16 years later, the aspiration of Turks in the city.
The Cologne Central Mosque is modest compared to the biggest in several Islamic countries — it can accommodate about 1,100 worshippers. It was designed by German architect Paul Bohm and has a utilizable space of 17,000 square meters, including a shopping center, exhibition and seminar hall, a conference hall with 600 seats, a library and offices, all scattered on various floors. A shopping center or simply a shop in the ground floor of a mosque has now become standard practice. This is the continuation of an Ottoman tradition to establish a pious endowment (waqf) to cover the mosque’s maintenance. Unlike mosques in Turkey, it also has a space for social activities.
The structure of the Cologne mosque conveys a message similar to La Sagrada Familia (Gaudi’s church in Barcelona): The members of a family in an embrace. But whether the mosque will ultimately be accepted in a predominantly Christian country like Germany remains to be seen.
The architecture of the Cologne mosque is very different from those built in Turkey, which are much more uniform than in many Islamic countries. This is attributed to the evolution of mosque architecture in Turkey. The Hagia Sophia, which was built in 537, is one of the oldest cathedrals in the world and was transformed into a mosque after the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottomans. Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan (1489-1588) was inspired by it, and most of the 84 mosques that he designed in his long lifetime were covered with a dome and flanked by a slender minaret. Since later Ottoman architects could not surpass Sinan’s perfection, his prototype remained as uniform mosque architecture for centuries in the Ottoman state and subsequently in republican Turkey. Bohm’s work in Cologne is a strong deviation from this design.
The Cologne Central Mosque is modest compared to the biggest in several Islamic countries — it can accommodate about 1,100 worshippers
Whether the construction of this mosque will reduce or increase the number of problems faced by Muslims in Germany is unclear.
Erdogan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel exchanged niceties in a press conference after meeting in Berlin at the weekend, but neither side retreated from their rock-solid positions. At a state dinner on Friday, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier thanked Erdogan for Turkey’s hosting of German intellectuals who suffered Nazi persecution and added that, now, Turkish intellectuals are moving to Germany. Steinmeier’s perception of Turkey could not be said in more plain words than that. And Merkel was no less frank.
The reason why the mosque was inaugurated now is probably due to the Turkish decision-makers’ assessment that Ankara has become an important player because of the developments in Idlib. In a country like Germany, where public opinion counts for a lot in the shaping of government decisions, it is not easy to claim that the public cares much about Idlib, except for the additional burden that it will put on taxpayers.
German citizens are, however, very much attached to the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in their constitution. If they feel that the practice of Islam in their country infringes their rights and freedoms, they will take a case to court and try to make their right prevail. As a result, the practice of Islam has faced a lot of difficulties in Germany.
In February, a couple living in the small town of Oer-Erkenschwick, near Dortmund, filed a complaint about the local mosque, claiming that the call to prayer, which was broadcast by loudspeaker, violated their religious rights. The complainant said the call to prayer “puts Allah above our God of Christians. And, as a Christian who grew up here in a Christian environment, I can’t accept that.”
Apparently, fanaticism has no religion.